Human Services: Investing in Regional Growth—2016-17

The Department of Human Services provides easy access to a range of flexible and convenient Australian Government services which support regional communities.

Services are provided to people living in regional areas through the Department of Human Services' service centres, including remote service centres, agents and access points. In addition, remote servicing teams and mobile service centres allow the Department of Human Services to provide outreach services. During 2015, mobile service centres visited over 480 towns, travelling more than 92,000 kilometres and helping over 10,000 people. Services, including specific services for regional Australians, are also provided through the Department of Human Services' nationally networked call centres. Certain Centrelink numbers can also be called free of charge from a landline or Telstra mobile.

The Department of Human Services continues to expand its digital services. Self-service options enable claims for a payment or concession, updating of personal details and changes in circumstances. The Department of Human Services also provides a range of mobile applications allowing simple transactions using mobile devices. This helps interactions at a time and place that suits, which is of particular benefit to people located in regional areas as it reduces their need to travel to service centres.

The Department of Human Services is also the first point of contact for the Australian Government across rural and regional Australia, particularly during natural disasters such as floods and droughts. The Department of Human Services' Emergency Reserve members and mobile service centre teams worked alongside others in the aftermath of the South Australian bushfires, Tropical Cyclone Marcia in Queensland, Tropical Cyclone Lam in the Northern Territory, Tropical Cyclone Olwyn in Western Australia, and storms and flooding in New South Wales.

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New Initiatives

myGov Operations

The myGov digital service is a simple, secure way for all Australians to access services, including in regional Australia. There are now over nine million active myGov accounts providing people with a secure online access with one username and password to use a growing range of Australian Government services online. With a myGov account, people can link a range of Australian Government services to do their online business from lodging claims, and accessing correspondence to updating their contact details. For Australians living in regional areas the ability to access multiple government services online is a convenient way to do business and minimises the need to travel significant distances to regional service centres and multiple government agencies.

As at February 2016, the myGov Digital Mailbox service has delivered more than 95 million mail items since the commencement of the service in March 2014. The on boarding of the service by the Australian Taxation Office in May 2014 has seen a significant increase in people accessing the current myGov digital service to lodge their tax returns from a place convenient to them. The existing myGov "Update Your Details" function enables the millions of myGov account holders to update selected contact information in a single transaction from their myGov account and share these with linked myGov member services.

Through the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Australian Government is committed to making services digital by default, and leading cultural and technological change in how those services are delivered. The modernisation of myGov and its future direction is central to these efforts with the high volume of transactions made through the myGov digital service.

The Department of Human Services is acting on feedback from the public to deliver a number of improvements to its digital channels. A programme of work is underway to address the most pressing issues raised by myGov users. These improvements are expected to reduce the level of inconvenience being experienced by myGov users when completing simple transactions through myGov, such as account lockouts and difficulty with security codes.

A joint project team has been established to re-examine the myGov digital service, including the technology supporting it, how it is delivered and managed, as well as user experience including frustrations. This work will also assess myGov's consistency with the Digital Service Standard. The project team will deliver a broad, long term improvement programme for the modernisation of myGov.

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Current Initiatives

Digital Transformation Agenda

In line with the Australian Government's Digital Transformation Agenda, the Department of Human Services is focusing on making services easier to use. This includes designing services that can be accessed digitally to increase self-service options, making it easier for people living in regional areas to interact with government agencies.

The Department of Human Services is collaborating with the Digital Transformation Office to lead and support key elements of the Digital Transformation Agenda by leveraging the existing myGov digital service, which offers capacity such as Digital Mail, and "Update Your Details".

Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation Programme

The ability to access Australian Government services online is a convenient way for Australians living in regional areas, to do business and often saves the trouble of having to travel long distances to regional centres. The planned Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation programme will be one of the world's largest social welfare information and communications technology system transformations. This is a significant multi-year transformation project that will build a new information and communications technology system that enables the Department of Human Services to:

  • provide faster, more connected and automated digital services;
  • give staff a modern information and communications technology platform that makes it easier for them to do their jobs; and
  • position the Department of Human Services to meet the future policy needs of the Australian Government.

Express Plus Apps

The Department of Human Services' Express Plus mobile apps continue to be popular with people wanting to engage with government services. The apps for Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support provide the option to complete many common, simple transactions on-the-go from any location, without having to call or visit an office. The mobile app digital service offer provides a convenient, flexible option to do business with us which includes uploading documents, reporting income, adding a newborn child, claiming Medicare, viewing Child Support account balances and making urgent Child Support Payments.

As at 31 December 2015, Express Plus mobile apps have been downloaded more than 6.4 million times. In 2014-15 over 61 million transactions were completed through the apps (compared to 36 million in 2013-14); this is an increase of 69 per cent in transactions. The Department of Human Services continues to deliver enhancements to mobile apps, to make this an effective digital channel, with additional functionality to advise of changes to personal details as well as a range of circumstances (such as their income and asset information) through their online profile.

In addition, the Express Plus Lite version enables the reporting of earned income in Arabic, Chinese, Persian (Farsi) or Vietnamese.

Online

The Department of Human Services' website humanservices.gov.au is a convenient way for regional Australians to access information and conduct their government business online. Every month the Department of Human Services' website has approximately eight million visitors.

The Payment Finder tool makes it easy for people to discover payments and services relevant to them. Payment Finder on humanservices.gov.au is used more than 260,000 times each month.

Once they have authenticated themselves, users can conduct many of their transactions with the Department of Human Services online at a time and place convenient to them. In 2014-15 an average of more than 339,000 transactions were completed online each day, an increase of almost 17 per cent from the previous financial year. A range of Centrelink payments are also claimable online, taking advantage of a streamlined claiming process which pre-populates the claim with already known information, and uses dynamic questioning to ensure that only necessary questions are asked. In some instances the online process now accounts for 80 per cent of new claim activity.

In 2014-15, over 112 million transactions were completed via online and the Express Plus mobile apps (compared to 95 million in 2013-14).

Government Remote Servicing

The Australian Government's investment of $93.4 million over four years is supporting the continued delivery of government payments and services in remote locations in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Northern Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. Through a mix of Agents, Access Points, Remote Service Centres and visits by Remote Servicing Teams, the Department of Human Services will continue to provide direct access to services in remote locations.

Remote servicing ensures a person can access Australian Government payments and services, regardless of their location. It also provides the Australian Government with the capability to deliver programmes and drive reforms specifically targeted to remote areas or more broadly.

Remote servicing is also a major source of employment in remote communities, especially for Indigenous people. For example, the large majority of staff in the Department of Human Services' Northern Territory Remote Service Centres are Indigenous.

Mobile Service Centres

The Department of Human Services operates a number of Mobile Service Centres. These fully equipped mobile offices travel on pre-determined itineraries in regional areas to communities located more than 50 kilometres from a service centre. Mobile Service Centres travel to rural and regional communities to provide hard to reach and disadvantaged people with information and access to Australian Government services, where they need it. Mobile Service Centres are also an important part of the Department of Human Services' emergency response service delivery capability. In 2016-17 the fleet plans to visit over 350 communities with the additional aim of partnering with other Australian Government agencies, where possible, to improve service delivery.

Agents and Access Points

Agents and Access Points provide essential and effective services to regional and rural people where accessibility to large regional centres is difficult.

The Department of Human Services' network of Agents and Access Points provides the opportunity for communities to build service hubs which support other visiting government services, creating relationships within communities.

Access Points provide free self-help facilities where people can conduct their business with the Department of Human Services. This includes services such as making phone calls, using photocopying, fax and internet facilities, and certifying proof of identity documents.

Agents are located in communities that need more than Access Point services. As well as providing the same facilities and services as an Access Point, an Agent provides face-to-face information services and an internet-enabled computer and printer for people to conduct their business. Agents provide people with assistance, guidance and referrals and accept claim forms for lodgement.

In 2015, Agent training focused on online services, including using myGov and the opportunity to improve computer literacy skills.

myGov Albury Shopfront

The myGov Albury shopfront opened to the public on Monday 17 August 2015 and brings together staff from the Department of Human Services and the Australian Taxation Office. myGov Albury is the first regional myGov shopfront where myGov online services are integrated with a full Centrelink, Medicare and the Australian Taxation Office face-to-face service offer.

The shopfront includes a learning hub and self-service computers to help people create and use their myGov account. Staff are on hand to guide people through the myGov set-up and to help them complete their government interactions digitally with the Department of Human Services, the Australian Taxation Office and other myGov member services. People with complex needs will receive a full service within the myGov shopfront. Australian Taxation Office customers with more complex needs are managed through an appointment system. In addition, myGov Albury undertakes citizenship testing on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The myGov shopfront service approach is an example of government agencies coming together to deliver an integrated service to the public.

Co-location

The Department of Human Services continues to co-locate services across Australia and implement its national network of one-stop-shops. The one-stop-shop approach brings together services from different departmental programmes, including Medicare and Centrelink services, into a single location to enhance access and convenience for all Australians including those living in regional Australia.

The one-stop-shop approach also provides a platform for the co-location of services provided by other Australian Government and State and Territory agencies, such as the Australian Taxation Office, Department of Veterans' Affairs, National Disability Insurance Agency, Department of Immigration and Border Protection and state and territory housing agencies in various locations across Australia.

Business Solutions Centre

The Department of Human Services' Business Solutions Centre provides user-centred design support through citizen engagement in face-to-face interviews, small group conversations or large design sessions. The aim of these engagements is to seek citizen input into new processes, service delivery improvements, policy initiatives and system design.

In the 2015-16 financial year, the Business Solutions Centre undertook citizen engagement activities in regional areas, including Gympie, Sunshine Coast, Geelong, Shepparton, Goulburn and Dubbo. The value in engaging regional areas is to ensure the overall design and delivery meets the needs of all Australians, recognising the unique requirements of those citizens located in regional areas of Australia.

Remote Smart Centre Services

In April 2014 Remote Smart Centres were established to streamline processes to deliver effective and efficient services. As a result, there are more staff on hand for general enquiries and complex enquiries are handled by Indigenous telephony queue staff with training and experience in complexities of Indigenous specific payments and programmes. Calls to the Indigenous telephony queue have been separated into remote and non-remote which supports a service offer that improves access to Australian Government payments, programmes and services.

Electronic Claiming of Medicare benefits

Electronic claiming options demonstrate the Australian Government's commitment to offer choices based on community needs. These options make it convenient to lodge claims for Medicare benefits without travelling to a service centre.

The Australian Government is actively working with medical practitioners, software vendors, financial institutions, health insurers and members of the public to increase the availability and use of electronic claiming of Medicare benefits.

National Indigenous Coalition

The National Indigenous Coalition has been established as the Department of Human Services' internal peak Indigenous forum. The National Indigenous Coalition continues to shape future services and promotes local solutions to local issues. In developing future service delivery approaches, the unique challenges of providing access and support to Indigenous Australians in regional Australia are considered by the forum. The Department of Human Services is using co-design methods to test new, more innovative ways to capture Indigenous Australian customer group insights and input in ways that will benefit service delivery to regional Australia.

Regional Citizenship Testing

The Department of Human Services has been working with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to make citizenship tests available in regional locations. Staff of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection previously visited regional centres to conduct tests, usually on a monthly or bimonthly basis. Some 125,000 citizenship tests are taken nationwide every year. Around 15,000 of these are taken in regional areas. Each week about 300 tests can take place across 33 service centres in regional areas across Australia, from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia to Mackay in Queensland.

Videoconferencing in Regional Locations

The Department of Human Services is trialling delivery of limited specialist services such as Job Capacity Assessments and access to Social Workers and Financial Information Service Officers by video conferencing in a number of regional locations. The Job Capacity Assessments are offered at over 30 mainly regional locations. Social Work services are provided to Halls Creek and Kununurra (Western Australia), Inverell and Glen Innes (New South Wales) and Financial Information Services are provided to Mildura (Victoria), Bega, Cowra, Inverell and Glen Innes (New South Wales). The Department of Human Services also offers access to Auslan interpreter services 'on-demand' at 80 sites, mostly in regional Australia.

Early Release of Superannuation Benefits on Specified Compassionate Grounds Programme

The Early Release of Superannuation Benefits on Specified Compassionate Grounds Programme helps members of the Australian public to obtain early release of superannuation benefits. The Early Release of Superannuation Benefits on Specified Compassionate Grounds Programme supports early releases for mortgage assistance, medical treatment, modifications to a home or car to accommodate a disability, as well as funeral and palliative care arrangements. Families and individuals who are required to travel long distances from regional areas for medical treatment may also be able to obtain an early release of benefits under this programme. The Early Release of Superannuation Benefits on Specified Compassionate Grounds Programme works closely with social workers to support people in regional areas who are experiencing difficult circumstances.

Services Accessed by Health Professionals

Health Professional Online Services provides access to online services for health professionals across Australia through a single entry point.

This service also gives health professionals access to information on the eligibility for Medicare services necessary for the processing and payment of claims.

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